Le Masque de Fer

Ensemble La Ninfea
69:45
Raumklang RK 3308
Music by Chambonnières, Marais, Sainte-Colombe, Toinon & the Saizenay manuscript

The Man in the Iron Mask has been the subject of books, films and much speculation about his identity. He may just have been a valet but there have been claims that he was an illegitimate half-brother of Louis XIV, a disgraced French general or an Italian diplomat. The one certain fact is that he died in the Bastille in 1703 after more than thirty years in several different French prisons where elaborate precautions were taken to hide his identity. On the assumption that the prisoner was not just a servant but had access to music, German ensemble La Ninfea present a programme of French baroque music designed not to cheer the prisoner in his lonely cell but rather to reflect his desperate situation. There are pieces for two recorders and continuo, duets for two gambas, solos for recorder or gamba with continuo and two for solo theorbo. The prevailing melancholy mood is lightened by the occasional fast movement and in two sets of arrangements by La Ninfea of music originally adapted for theorbo by Robert de Visée. On the whole the programme flows nicely along with stylish performances of some beautiful music, but this is perhaps not a CD to listen to if you are already feeling depressed.

Victoria Helby